Exploring bi-literacy


It has always seemed natural for us bring up our children to be bilingual, there being a myriad of positive impacts for children learning two languages from birth. Being bilingual however, does not automatically mean you can read and write in both languages. In fact, most bilinguals receive their schooling in the majority language and this language will always be the one they feel most comfortable with in reading and writing. True bi-literacy is hard to achieve without bilingual education which unfortunately is uncommon here in the UK.

I know S will probably prefer English as he progresses along his educational journey, but we would like him to have a working knowledge of Spanish, and be functionally literate in both languages. This will open up opportunities for study or work in a Spanish-speaking country in the future, more than just having oral fluency.

We have decided to introduce reading and writing in Spanish at the same time as S starts school here in the UK. Both languages share an alphabet and many of the letters have the same or similar sounds. Having researched the advantages and disadvantages we think learning to read and write in both Spanish and English at the same time will help reinforce key literacy skills and do not feel S will be any more confused than he is currently using both languages on a daily basis depending on the situation.

S will be starting school in September. Here in the UK children start in the reception class at primary school at 4-5 years old and this is when they formally start to learn to read and write. S loves books and he’s excited about being able to read stories to his little sister.

I thought I’d share with you some resources I’ve been exploring to start us on this journey of learning to read and write, both in Spanish and English. I am interested in both online materials in the form of ebooks, videos and apps, and real books and activities for supporting the process of learning to read and write.

ENGLISH (majority language)

S will be learning in English, his majority language, at school. Reading and writing well in English will be important for him throughout his school career. As well as encouraging him to learn to read and write in Spanish, I am keen to support his English literacy skills and to find out more about how these key skills are taught in schools.

There are two main systems in use in the UK for teaching literacy to primary school children, Jolly Phonics and Read Write Inc, I understand both are based on decoding and blending synthetic phonics sounds and the visual recognition of commonly used words known as ‘sight words’. The school S will be attending uses the Read Write Inc method and I look forward to finding out more about it when he starts in September.

I recently picked up an English activity book aimed at 4-5 year olds by Gold Stars which S has enjoyed. I was actually surprised at how much he already knew and how well he concentrated as we worked through the book together. I also like the Julia Donaldson Songbirds phonics readers and activity books which S will be getting for his birthday. You can buy the whole set of 36 books online at The Book People at great value. I’ve only recently discovered this online bookshop. I was wondering if there’s an equivalent online discount bookshop in Spain but I have now found out that the price of books in Spain is set nationally to protect small bookshops, and only second-hand shops can offer large discounts. Siete Vidas is one of these second-hand bookshops which I need to check out.

In preparation for our long-haul flight to Mexico in a couple of weeks time, I’ve also been looking into apps and games for my phone. We’ve been recommended the following apps to try out for our journey: Teach your Monster to Read and Hairy Letters.

SPANISH (minority/home language)

S will be taking Spanish lessons twice a week starting at the end of September with Noelia from De Colores. The full details still need to be confirmed but the idea is to pick him up early from school twice a week for home-based tuition. The lessons will be focused on learning to read and write in Spanish, as well as covering the topics he has been working on at school. The aim is this arrangement to continue all the way through the school, changing the timings to suit the timetable.

I am hoping to pick up some ‘learn to read’ and ‘first reader’ book collections this summer while we are in Mexico, as well as any activity books or games. I’ve found out that in Mexican schools they don’t teach individual phonemes, but syllables, and I have been recommended this system: Mi Libro Mágico. I look forward to sharing more about what I find out during our trip to Mexico once I get back! There are also these fun videos to explore – Mono Silabo. These are some beginner reader books that have been recommended so far for me to investigate: La Serie Blanca, Torre de Papel Naranja.

There are also lots of online resources, which are free to download as pdf documents including all official public school text books from the Mexican education authorities, and the text books for first and second grade in Chile.

I have also been investigating ‘learn to read’ methods in Spain, and have discovered Letrilandia, one of the systems used in Spanish primary schools. This appeals to me and it uses stories to help the children remember the letters and has accompanying stories and videos. I only worry slightly that the cursive text will confuse him as he’s only ever been exposed to print! I will wait to see what we find in Mexico and what Noelia suggests, but I may invest in the Letrilandia reading and exercise books.


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